Should Your Laundry Be Open 24 Hours?

Howard Scott |

Will the around-the-clock offering be a viable business strategy?

PEMBROKE, Mass. — Should the Laundromat be open 24 hours a day? Certainly, it is a positive feature of good service. It looks good to add that feature in a bullet listing.

Customers who have no time during the day and evening come as late as they want to get their clothes cleaned.

Customers with unusual schedules find the offering helpful.

Night owls are sure to patronize the 24-hour Laundromat, plus staying open all night makes for great visibility.

But, still, is staying open 24 hours a day a viable strategy?

IS THE COST WORTH IT?

There are costs to staying open 24 hours—utilities, evening help, and problem-solving.

If the store isn’t manned, there are dangers of vandalism and homeless people seeking shelter.

So, is incurring the cost worth it?

The first question to answer is: Does the Laundromat do enough volume during the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to break even?

My guess is most, or all, do not. We’re talking 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.—eight hours a day for seven days a week, or 56 hours.

At a cost of $6 utility and $12 staffing, that’s $18 an hour. So, 56 hours times $18 is $1,008, or roughly $1,000 expense every week.

At an average of each customer spending $7, that’s roughly 140 late-night customers every week.

Tyrone Akins, co-owner of Laundry Café, in inner-city Philadelphia, says his 24-hour operation exceeds breakeven.

He says, “At 3 a.m., we’ll have six or seven customers. A lot of people in this area work the third shift and come in afterwards to do their laundry. Plus, our cleaning man tends the business as he cleans, so it’s a twofer.”

This operation warrants being open 24 hours.

WILL YOU BREAK EVEN?

For sure, utilizing equipment 24 hours is a strategy that has made a lot of people fortunes.

I grew up living next to an eye doctor who had bought a small chain of local newspapers.

Once he got his bearings, he expanded into printing circulars for discount centers. That led to a massive increase in business.

He purchased huge four-color presses and began operating 24 hours a day, six days a week. The business rocketed to $15 million in sales.

The owner always said, “I made money because I got maximum use of my equipment—the most expensive expense in the manufacturing process.”

However, Laundromats are not manufacturers, and I don’t think the same economics apply.

I spoke to another 24-hour operator, who said that late-evening volume approaches breakeven.

But, he went on to say that it is such a great feature to brag about that it is worth staying open all night just for the goodwill.

He offered: “I always put ‘Open 24 hours, seven days a week’ in my bullet listing of offerings, and I feel I’m ahead of competition.”

I would like to ask him three questions:

First, what does he mean by “approaches breakeven”?

Does he mean he loses $200 a week? Does he mean losing $100 a week? Does he mean he actually breaks even for half of the week?

If he loses $100 a week, that’s a $5,000 cut, and that’s a stiff penalty to pay for a questionable brag.

The second question is, how many of his early-morning customers would come during regular store hours?

One might come in the middle of the night and talk to customers, asking why they do their laundry in the early-morning hours. If he determines that a third would most likely come during normal hours, that must be factored into the breakeven analysis.

Third, I would like to ask him why he thinks 24-hour service makes him unique.

Does he think his customers appreciate the backup option? Does he feel that customers appreciate that the Laundromat is really going to bat for its patrons? Does he think that the customer feels secure in dealing with a large company?

‘WHAT’S THE POINT?’

Certainly, 99% of customers do not wash their clothes in the early-morning hours. That option means nothing to them.

Perhaps it’s good to know that if there ever came an occasion when they couldn’t wash their clothes until 3 a.m., they might think about doing so.

But, more probably, they’ll postpone the task for a day or two. They’ll simply wear the outfits they have on for another day.

Not too many people can stomach doing anything out of their home at 3 a.m.

Besides being dark and cold, it’s dangerous out there. That hour is when all the crazies come out.

“No, sir, we’ll just manage until I can get to the Laundromat at a decent hour,” says the customer.

I think when people hear that the Laundromat is open 24 hours, seven days a week, they say, “That’s nice,” but whisper to themselves, “What’s the point?”

Doing the laundry is just not such a critical function. So, pitching the benefit will generally fall on deaf ears.

Seeing a 24-hour Laundromat as a beacon of welcome is another argument around-the-clock practitioners offer.

Yes, a fully lighted store is visible, but certainly not to a large audience, because they’re not out there at that time.

In addition, I can’t imagine a customer driving by in the early-morning hours, glimpsing the open Laundromat and making a mental note to tell his wife to switch Laundromats.

‘A BETTER STRATEGY’

My vote is, unless you do a solid volume, dispense with the 24-hour deliberation.

Maintain regular hours. Opening at 6 a.m. is sufficient. Closing at 10 p.m. will do.

A better strategy is to put your money into new equipment. If you can reduce machine downtime—the leading customer complaint—that’s a better use of expenditure.

Put another way, I would rather offer a bank of new machines and stay open normal hours than be a 24-hour Laundromat with 9-year-old equipment.

Being able to offer 24-hour service is no good unless it pays for itself.

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a former business owner, longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at [email protected].

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